When Google announced Chrome OS, many people scoffed at the viability of a browser-based OS. Currently, however, Chromebooks are among the most popular inexpensive computing devices today. The search giant has done a great job of making an OS that is light enough to function on entry-level Atom-based SOCs and even low-powered ARM silicon. With the launch of many new Chromebooks (click hear to find out which one we think is the best chromebook) we wanted to see if a person could survive with a Chromebook playing games, videos, word processing and more for an entire week. Read on to see how the OS fared against Windows in our seven-day challenge.
The premise of our test was simple, use nothing but a Chromebook for seven days straight. We weren’t allowed to touch a PC during that period, so we left our Windows rig sitting around collecting dust. Below you will find different sections about our experiences with our Chromebook. In addition, we fill you in on whether a person can use one as their primary computer.
We should mention the only other Internet capable device we were allowed to use during our testing period was a smartphone. We did, after all, have to make the occasional phone call/text every now and then.
The Acer C720 Chromebook
We grabbed Acer’s C720, as it’s arguably the best Chromebook for the money, providing us with a dual-core Intel Haswell processor, 16GB SSD, and 4GB of DDR3 RAM. We thought about using Google’s Pixel, but it’s super expensive at $1,300. The C720 comes very close to the Pixel in performance, and its way cheaper at $250. Not to mention its 0.7lbs lighter than the Pixel as well.
Chrome OS' desktop interface
Using a Chromebook we found some distinct performance advantages and disadvantages. First off, Chrome OS is insanely fast at booting up, taking about 2 seconds to get to the desktop, and we saw the device get us to the Internet in just seconds. In case you've been living under a rock and don't know how Chrome OS operates, it is an operating system that is tied to the cloud. This means that in order to properly take advantage of its features, you must be connected online.
The battery life was excellent on the C720, as we got around eight and a half hours run time while producing documents and surfing the web. The C720 was highly portable since it weighs just 2.7 pounds and has a thin profile of 0.7 inches. We also liked its small sleek form factor, as it easily fit into our bag. With its small size also comes a small keyboard, however, and we found ourselves missing our full-size keyboard with its 10-key number pad. We did like the C720’s multi-touch track pad, as the multi-touch gestures were very responsive, but it’s a bit too small for large fingers. These hardware peripherals will vary from Chromebook to Chromebook, however, so the aforementioned statements are not relevant to all Chromebooks.
A familiar face
Browsing the Internet:
Our Chromebook browsed the web quickly and efficiently. It handled multiple tabs very well and we didn’t see any slowdown in performance when we had 10 or more tabs open. We did, however, run into an issue with Newegg as some of its links didn’t work properly on our Chromebook. We tried looking at customer reviews on the e-tailer’s website and couldn’t get them to load on our Chromebook no matter what we did. We tried shutting down the unit and restarting it, restoring it to factory settings [A.K.A. powerwashing], and disabling our Chrome add-ons and nothing worked. The biggest weakness of Chrome OS is that not everything supports Chrome, so unlike Windows, you can’t just switch browsers if a website isn’t loading properly.
Google's Word Processing Application: Google Drive
Google Drive was how we created documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. We liked using the cloud-based suite, but it’s not as fleshed out as Microsoft Office. There’s simply more functionality in Word and PowerPoint, as they offer more customization than Google Docs. We found there to be more transitions in PowerPoint along with more options to customize our slides than on Google Slides. If you just need basic presentations, documents, and spreadsheets, however, Google Drive can do most of what Microsoft’s Office can do for free.
One of the biggest advantages Google Drive has over Microsoft Office is its sharing function and we liked how we could easily share our documents with the service. Another strong feature of document sharing in Google Docs is that multiple people can edit the same document at the same time. As noted by one of our readers, Hellabrad, you can also edit and share documents with other Office users with Microsoft's free web client. Finally, Google Docs is constantly and conveniently AutoSaving, which is something the desktop version of Word doesn’t do. By default, the Microsoft Word desktop application AutoSaves every 10 minutes, and this setting can be changed to AutoSave every minute (Hellabrad).
Click the next page to read about gaming, picture-editing and more with a Chromebook.
Streaming Amazon Instant Prime on a Chromebook
Chrome OS has Adobe Flash Player baked right into its browser, so we found there to be no problems with watching movies and TV shows on Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and Hulu Plus. The picture quality was a clear 720p on our 11-inch display, which didn’t look that bad because the pixel density was fairly high on our relatively small screen.
There are no third-party AV programs on Chrome OS you can download at the moment. We see this as a problem because we would love to see Norton, Kaspersky, Trend Micro, and other AV developers making Chrome apps to help protect the OS. AV suites may come along if the OS gains further adoption, but for now you’re only protected by Google.
The search giant claims that you’ll never get a virus on its Chrome OS, but Apple said the same thing a few years ago with OSX and that didn’t turn out to be the case. As a matter of fact, the past few years Apple users have seen many viruses invade their laptops and all-in-ones like never before. We suspect that ChromeOS won’t be immune to these problems either.
Editing photos using Pixlr on a Chromebook
We initially thought that we could use Adobe’s Creative Cloud on our Chromebook, but we were wrong, as Chrome OS does not support the online suite. If you need Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, you’ll need a Windows PC to use these multimedia-editing apps.
The built-in photo editor in Chrome OS is very limited, but luckily there’s a free Chrome app called Pixlr that can satisfy your photo editing needs in a pinch. Pixlr gives you a variety of tools including an eraser, smudge tool, selection tool, stamp tool, along with a paint bucket tool and red eye reduction. Pixlr also lets you adjust your image’s size and create layers for those who like to stack effects when editing their photos. It’s not a Photoshop replacement, but at least you can lightly touch up photos.
From what we know there’s no way to edit videos on a Chromebook (other than the simple Youtube video editor, that is), so again you’ll need a good old X86 PC to this task. If Adobe did start supporting Chromebooks we could see them as cheap multimedia machines, but until that time comes, Chrome OS users are limited to editing photos.
Playing Bastion on a Chromebook
As mentioned before Chrome OS supports Adobe Flash, meaning that Flash games can be played on the OS. Armor Games, a website that provides tons of free flash games, ran well, but we did see a few hiccups in our frame rate from time to time after a few minutes.
There are a few indie titles that are available on Chrome OS, including Bastion and Flow. Bastion was a performance hog and pushed our tiny Chromebook to its limits, as the unit’s fan was blaring right when we started up the game. Flow on the other hand ran well and didn’t bring our Chromebook to its knees like Bastion did.
We did miss Steam and Origin too (only because of BF4, naturally) and we found Chrome OS doesn’t have any compelling flash titles to keep PC gamers satisfied. We find flash games fun 5-10 minute coffee break games, but they don’t quench our hardcore-gaming thirst.
We didn’t like Chrome OS because of the lack of content management it provides. There are no folders for Music, Documents, or Pictures like in Windows. All of your files are automatically put in your download folder, and they are all grouped from most current to least current. We thought it was odd we couldn’t put any of files these files onto our desktop. Not to mention, all this glorious content is stored on a “massive” 16GB SSD. It’s not all bad as you can at least natively zip and unzip files in the OS with right-click, which is a two finger tap in Chrome OS.
We thought it was strange that we couldn’t upload our music to Google Music using our Chromebook. Chrome OS doesn’t support this, and that’s just weird because you would think Google would support its own ecosystem. Simply put, there’s a huge lack of content management features and it’s something Google definitely needs to change if it seeks to get more market penetration within the laptop scene.
While the Chromebook is very fast and functional, it lacks power-user apps like Photoshop, or triple-A gaming titles. We see the device great for college students looking to get a computing device that they can get 8-9 hours out of while taking notes and browsing the web. Chrome OS can also stream the major video services, as we watched Amazon Prime Instant Video, Hulu, and Netflix with no problems. You’re ultimately getting a document, web browsing, and streaming machine.
There have been more hybrid Windows 8.1 devices sporting X86 Intel Atom processors with fast 32GB or 64GB SSDs. These inexpensive Windows machines should challenge Chromebooks in the upcoming months and will make Chrome OS devices harder and harder to sell. We’ve already seen some tablet-laptops that are $350-$400 like the ASUS T100, which gives users Windows 8.1 in a portable form factor with a battery life that is comparable to the C720. We’d personally stick with an X86 Windows PC because it does a lot more than Chrome OS, giving us access to a never-ending abundance of apps and tools that Google’s browser OS just can’t rival at the moment.